Daily Event for December 7

On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Using all six of there big flattops (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku) and over 300 aircraft they devastated the U.S. battleship fleet. The Arizona and Oklahoma were sunk, and the rest of the battleships were damaged, but the real target, the carriers, were not there. The attack killed almost 2,500 and wounded another 1,200, however
the first shots fired were not by Japanese aircraft but by an American destroyer.

A little over two hours before the attack the USS Ward DD-139 commanded by William W. Outerbridge saw a submarine following a supply ship into the entrance of Pearl Harbor. A "war warning" had been issued in November in it Admiral Kimmel ordered his patrol ships to depth charge any suspicious submarines in the area, so the Ward went into action. The crew, all reservists from Minnesota, fired the first shot of World War 2 at 06:45, it missed. A second shot from her 4" gun found the mark, the shell hit the conning tower. Then four depth charges were dropped, and the sub sank. Outerbridge radioed the report in, but the message was mostly ignored. The Ward, echo-ranged for additional contacts and soon found another sub. It was depth charged but no result was seen.

The Ward returned to Pearl Harbor around 08:00 by then the attack was underway. At the time they had no way of knowing that they had fired the first shot against the Japanese in World War 2. The midget sub was the first Japanese loss of the war. The Japanese used five of these subs in the attack, all five were either sunk or captured. There was always some speculation to the story about the Ward, but on August 28, 2002 the story was confirmed. The midget submarine was finally found, and the hole in the conning tower was right where the crew of the Ward said they hit it.

The Ward was refitted as a fast transport in Bremerton, WA. and sent to the Pacific. She served with distinction until she was sunk on December 7, 1944, three years to the day after her action at Pearl Harbor. She was hit by a Kamikaze which went through the ship and exploded. The Ward mortally wounded sank thirty minuets later with the aid of the USS O'Brien DD-725. The O'Brien came along side under the command of Captain William Outerbridge, Ward's ex CO. and in an irony that only happens in wartime, it was Outerbridge that gave the order to sink his former ship.

Remarkably only one crewman was injured in the attack and Capt. Outerbridge watched from the bridge of the O'Brien as they used their guns to finish sinking the Ward. The Ward earned nine battle stars in World War 2, one as a destroyer and eight as a transport.

The deck gun which fired the shot that sank the sub is now a monument on the capitol grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota.

© 2005 Michael W. Pocock

USS Ward DD-139


Officers of the USS O'Brien DD-725 in 1944. Capt. Outerbridge is seated third from left.

(Photo courtesy of Roy C. Thomas USN SO1 USS O'Brien DD-725)